Stephanopoulos falsely claimed 33 members of Congress who wrote to Interior Dept. "got campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff"

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

On ABC's World News Tonight, George Stephanopoulos falsely claimed that 33 members of Congress "got campaign contributions from [former lobbyist] Jack Abramoff" and "wrote letters to the interior secretary" that were helpful to Abramoff's clients. In addition, by not noting that all the members of Congress who received contributions from Abramoff were Republicans, Stephanopoulos misleadingly implied that Abramoff gave money to members of both parties. In fact, Democrats received contributions from Abramoff's clients and associates but none from Abramoff directly.

On the May 24 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight, ABC chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos falsely claimed that 33 members of Congress "got campaign contributions from [former lobbyist] Jack Abramoff" and "wrote letters to the interior secretary" that were helpful to Abramoff's clients. In addition, by not noting that all the members of Congress who received contributions from Abramoff were Republicans, Stephanopoulos misleadingly implied that Abramoff gave money to members of both parties. As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented, Democrats received contributions from Abramoff's clients and associates but none from Abramoff directly.

Stephanopoulos' claim was apparently based on a November 17, 2005, Associated Press report that "at least 33" "members of Congress, including leaders from both parties, pressed the government to reject a Louisiana Indian casino while they collected large donations from rival tribes and their lobbyist Jack Abramoff." The AP reported that "[m]any" of these members of Congress "intervened with letters to Interior Secretary Gale Norton within days of receiving money from tribes represented by Abramoff or using the lobbyist's restaurant for fundraising."

The AP report did not assert that any Democrats had received campaign contributions directly from Abramoff.

Stephanopoulos made his claim following a report by ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross that according to "federal officials," the Justice Department's investigation into the Abramoff corruption scandal "now includes the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert [R-IL]." Following Ross's May 24 report, the Justice Department denied that Hastert is under investigation.

Unlike Democrats, Hastert did receive campaign contributions directly from Abramoff. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Abramoff donated $2,500 to Hastert's political action committee in 2003.

From the May 24 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight with anchor Elizabeth Vargas:

ROSS: Elizabeth, federal officials tell us the congressional bribery investigation now includes the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, based on information from the convicted lobbyists who are cooperating with the government. Justice Department officials describe the 64-year-old Illinois Republican as "very much in the mix" of the corruption investigation.

[...]

VARGAS: The political implications are huge if, in fact, Speaker Hastert is now a target of this FBI investigation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Potentially seismic, Elizabeth. And it really is going to depend on the facts and whether prosecutors can demonstrate a quid pro quo, that Hastert took that official action in return for the campaign contribution. As Brian said, he has denied that. His spokesmen have denied that in the past. But if he can prove that, if they can get an indictment, this would be a political earthquake.

VARGAS: But you -- that's a big if. This is the kind of charge that is exceedingly difficult to prove.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly right. And it's been, frankly, common practice in Washington. There are 33 members of Congress who wrote letters to the interior secretary and got campaign contributions from Jack Abramoff. So if Hastert is facing that kind of scrutiny, they may, too. A lot of heads could roll.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Network/Outlet
ABC
Person
George Stephanopoulos
Show/Publication
ABC World News Tonight
Stories/Interests
Abramoff Scandal
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